1958 Australia’s first barbecue cookbook

Australia's first barbecue cookbook runs to 58 pages

Australia’s first barbecue cookbook, The burnt offering: (how not to barbecue), by Winsom A Gilbert, appeared in 1958. Gilbert was born in Perth but educated in the United States and later spent 20 years in London. She was not a professional cook but followed a range of occupations including demonstrating household and cookery appliances. The blurb on the back of the book  tells us that she “has won a collection of trophies for her rifle shooting, but prefers to be armed with a good cookery book.”

When Mrs Gilbert found that there was no barbecue book written specifically for Australia, she set out to compile one. She obtained the services of one of Australia’s foremost cartoonists, William Edwin Pigeon (known as WEP) to add humorous illustrations to her book. It’s a flimsy soft-covered volume about A4 in size, running to just 58 pages,   and includes chapters on types of barbecues and fuels (Gilbert recommended charcoal), grills, stews, fish, vegetables, desserts and more. A revised edition was published in 1966.

Gilbert’s definition of barbecued meat was very specific.  “Food cooked over an open grill outdoors is not necessarily a barbecue,” she wrote. “The difference lies in the sauce. Properly, the definition is this. Barbecued meat is meat that is grilled over an open fire and is basted during the cooking with barbecue sauce.”

Naturally, she devotes a chapter to marinades and sauces, and grease stains on the barbecue sauce page in my copy indicates that the original owner took Gilbert at her word when she wrote: “The rest of the book you will read through a few times, but this section you will consult every time you have a barbecue”.

Gilbert was before her time with some of the recipes included in her barbecue cookbook. There’s a recipe for garlic bread – adventurous for the 1950s, although it became ubiquitous during the ’70s – and for yoghurt kebabs, at a time when our discovery of the souvlaki was still some years away. She even urged Australians to try drinking…gasp…wine!

As regards other beverages, there is always beer, but you can’t drink beer all day. (You can? Then skip the next paragraph.)

For those of you who don’t care for beer – well, there are some – why not be a little venturesome and try wine? I like, best of all, a good moselle. It is light and not too sweet, and does not increase your thirst unduly.

One of the scariest things about the cookbook is Gilbert’s liking for having barbecues indoors.  “I have some wonderful winter parties in my flat with the barbecue in the middle of the lounge,” she wrote. With charcoal of course. I’m not sure whether Winsom Gilbert is still with us. Probably not, since she was born in 1909. I do hope she didn’t go out in a blaze of glory.

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